How fitting that a grove of redwoods in Golden Gate Park commemorates those who have lost their lives to AIDS. For me, a stroll through these magnificent giants is a spiritual experience whenever I encounter them. Even more than stone circles and inscribed boulders of remembrance, these trees seem to bear silent, wise witness to life and death, eternity and evolution. I also love the dry, stone creek that flows through this grove from the bright green clearing at the heart of the valley that was once called Laveaga Dell. Entering the dappled shadows under the tall trees, the rounded stones seem to roll and sparkle just a tiny bit, their worn smooth shapes alluding to the water in the small, serene waterfall recently restored deep in the woods on the other side of the clearing.
Searching for poetry that might express how I feel in this grove, I come across Walt Whitman’s Song of the Redwood-Tree. I’m hopeful because this poem was written in the same era of American history that produced Golden Gate Park. But it’s too stuck in the nineteenth century, too grandiose and flowery and full of esoteric references.
Then I find a poem called, Not Dead, by Robert Graves (1895-1985) that beautifully articulates my sense of this place. See what you think:
Walking through trees to cool my heat and pain, I know that David’s with me here again. All that is simple, happy, strong, he is. Caressingly I stroke Rough bark of the friendly oak. A brook goes bubbling by: the voice is his. Turf burns with pleasant smoke; I laugh at chaffinch and at primroses. All that is simple, happy, strong, he is. Over the whole wood in a little while Breaks his slow smile.
I love love love these sketches. Soon you’ll have a whole illustrated Golden Gate Park. And the poem fits the memorial grove perfectly.